Published: June 23, 2022

Bruno Catalano triptych

By Lyanna Kessler

In the winter of 2022, I applied to be a student in a course on 
neuroinflammation, a course that takes place in Venice, Italy. It seemed like 
a great opportunity, where I could learn about the topics that interest me 
most in the beautiful Venetian atmosphere. I remember as an undergraduate
I first heard there was a link between the brain and the immune system in 
cases of Alzheimer’s disease. It sparked so many questions for me, which led
me to focus my PhD research on neuroimmunology (and its subtopics, such 
as neuroinflammation). Specifically, I want to research the mechanisms of 
how a particular bacteria, Mycobacterium vaccae, can reduce 
neuroinflammation. Being new to the field, I felt compelled to attend this 
course to learn from the leading international experts. Thankfully I was 
accepted into the course and in May 2022, I was off to the Neuroscience 
School of Advanced Studies in Italy.

Much like the Venetian canals, it turns out the field of neuroimmunology is 
filled with twists and turns. Where one speaker believed blood-brain barrier 
permeability was possible, another did not. Where a reduction of anhedonia 
was expected, there was not. Different studies on similar models would point
in different directions. It was thrilling to hear about research so fresh, even if 
we don’t have all the answers yet. When we do have answers, to me it feels 
like we’ve discovered hidden continents. I was excited to learn that 
microglia, the immune cells of the brain, form connected networks when 
laden with toxins. Our conference host, Robert Dantzer, compared the field 
of neuroinflammation to a statue series by Bruno Catalano, “Pierre David 
Triptyque” (pictured here), saying that we were finally starting to see an 
outline of the big picture, but key gaps remain. I had the opportunity to 
present my research topic to many different speakers and get feedback, 
which has significantly strengthened my project. Of course, I got to explore 
the city as well, with my crumpled map and vaporetto schedule in hand. I ate
amazing Italian cuisine, visited museums, and walked or boated everywhere.
By the end of my week-long stay, I felt like the map of Venice was part of 
me, with canals like veins and alleys like nerves. It was everything I had 
hoped, both an academically and personally enriching experience.

Lyanna Kessler portrait